Central Ohio Symphony: A Visit with Jaime Morales-Matos

Central Ohio Symphony Music Director Jaime Morales-Matos(Photo: Jaime Morales-Matos)
Central Ohio Symphony Music Director Jaime Morales-Matos(Photo: Jaime Morales-Matos)

The Central Ohio Symphony, based at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, has been a member of Classical 101′s Music in Mid-Ohio program for many years. The symphony and ProMusica have led the way locally in championing new music.

Our neighbors in Delaware have participated in the Ford Motor Company Made in America project and just received a Community Education Grant from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.

COSO’s regular programming includes world and local premieres. There’s no shortage of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert and Strauss, either.

Jaime Morales-Matos is Music Director of the Central Ohio Symphony. Though I have produced his performances for radio for years, I’m embarrassed to say he and I have never met. This will be remedied soon.

Meanwhile, here’s part of a recent phone conversation I had with Maestro Morales-Matos.

CP:  You come from a very musical family. Can you tell me who’s who?

JMM:  Let me tell you from top to bottom. My older brother Mariano is a composer. Sonia, my sister, is a composer. Then me.

Then Rolando, who is a percussionist, now working in The Lion King on Broadway. He’s also a professor at Temple University and Curtis, and plays percussion extra with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Then is Riccardo, principal clarinet of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Jesus plays in a string quartet and teaches at Temple University.

CP: Are your parents musicians?

JMM: They are not. My father is a librarian in law, and my mother was a therapist. But we all went to a performing arts school in Puerto Rico.

My father played guitar by ear. So since we were kids he made us play with him. We would sing, my brother would play percussion.  We always had to perform with my dad. We performed for schools and in church, and in nursing homes for the elderly. That was very important. My dad wanted us to share music. Talent was a gift from God.

CP: How old were you when you knew you could read music?

JMM: I was 12. My older brother was younger. He was seven or eight. I started music later. I wanted to be a baseball player.

CP: Now you’re a professor of trombone?

JMM: Yes, that’s right. At Miami University.

CP: When you first heard the Central Ohio Symphony, when you had your first rehearsal with them in Delaware, what did you hear? What did you find?

JMM: When you first hear an orchestra live you can hear not only the sound of the orchestra but their interest. They were into it. They were enjoying what they were doing. That’s what I love about the Central Ohio Symphony.

This orchestra is “per service.” Everyone has a day job. People who loved and studied music, but in the end they have to make a living. But here they are after a full day’s work coming to rehearse at 7 o’clock at night. Music is a real passion for them. That comes across in their music making. The first time I conducted the orchestra I could feel that.

CP: You do difficult repertoire. You’ve done a lot of new music. What’s the rehearsal process like for something particularly difficult?

JMM: I chose a repertoire that is challenging and I believe it is good music. I chose music I really want to share with the community. To keep the orchestra alive you have to keep exploring. To rehearse what is difficult, I try to read through and then break the piece down into fragments, block-by-block.  So each section can hear what the other is doing.

CP: Is there one piece you conducted in Delaware that really satisfied you, that you found especially exciting?

JMM: One time we played a snare drum concerto by Sean Beeson (Prometheus Rapture). That piece we used Jeff Queen as a soloist. It was very difficult. We jelled. You could feel that something was happening there. I felt like we became one with the soloist  and the orchestra and the music.

We did another piece by James Lantini. It was rehearsed and then the performance was — wow! When you perform, all the technical stuff is out, and you need to communicate with.  The music has to flow, to go beyond the notes and any technical difficulties. Sometimes you can feel that if we do a good job, it all comes across and the orchestra enjoys it. And that’s very important. Because if they enjoy it, that transmits to the audience.

CP: Tell me about your audiences in Delaware. Can you see the audience growing? You give them a lot of standard repertoire, but they seem very willing to try new music, too.

JMM: (laughing) It’s been a challenge. At the beginning the audience was very conservative. They liked the standard music. Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky. Which I love. I love to perform this repertoire. There’s a lot of good music being written today as well, and I didn’t want us to miss out.  So we began to work with the Ohio Composer’s Project.

Many composers get a premiere, but then I find many of these pieces go to sleep again. So this became a wonderful opportunity for another Ohio composer to have another performance.

We try to include something new in every program, so the audience can get used to listening to new music. We do everything with passion. Some music we cannot do for the forces that we have, too technically difficult with limited rehearsal. So we’d rather do something I know we can do well. And the audience kind of likes it.

We did the Berg Violin Concerto last season. Some people told me, oh this is very contemporary. They were surprised to learn it is 90-years old. Some people loved it. A revelation.

Later we’ll try a pre-concert talk. I hate to talk during concert. People come to concerts to hear music. It’s better sometimes if you know nothing about the piece. Then maybe you will like something unexpected. If I tell my own views that destroys the surprise.

CP: What else would you like to do with the Central Ohio Symphony?

JMM: We are good at being in the community. And that will go on. Next year, we do the Beethoven 9th with a lot of different local choirs, schools, churches, and that is a good way to share passion and get everyone excited.